Inland from Cairns in Queensland's far north, the Atherton
Tablelands offer a blend of the best attractions of the wet tropics and
the dry outback charm; a combination of nature and lifestyle at its
finest. Among the World Heritage listed rainforests, national parks,
mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls of the Tableland are some of
Australia's richest agricultural lands, cattle country and charming
Less than an hour's drive from Cairns, the Tablelands' winding roads
lead to spectacular lookouts and waterfalls, and highlights include
Australia's widest waterfall - Millstream Falls - and many others
flowing all year round, the deep blue waters of extinct volcano crater
lakes, Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, the ancient Bromfield Swamp near
Malanda and the Mt. Hypipamee Crater National Park near Herberton. A
little further West, the lush farming lands change to Wooded Savannah
with dry creek beds, wandering cattle and the beautiful ochre colours
of the Outback.
For visitors, the Tablelands and Outback present opportunities for
bush walking, bird watching, limestone cave tours, visits to coffee and
tea plantations and tropical fruit wineries, wildlife cruises, wildlife
spotting, hot air ballooning and water sports as diverse as fishing,
water skiing and white water rafting.
Though this drive through the Tablelands can be travelled in a day,
this is not nearly enough time to enjoy all there is on offer here,
whatever one's interests might be. An absolute minimum of two days is
recommended, with at least a day spent in the northern section and
another day in the south.
Location: north Queensland, inland from Cairns.
Length: 177 km plus additional travel to points of interest within the region
Suggested return journey: this drive is a loop that starts and finishes at Cairns.
Volcano crater lakes; Kuranda village and tropical rainforest;
coffee and tea plantations; historic mining towns of Herberton and
Ravensoe; waterfalls of the Tablelands
Minimum duration (one way): 3 hours 30 minutes
What You Will See
Cairns to Kuranda: travelling in a counter-clockwise direction from
Cairns, the first section of the drive is a short but steep climb up
into the mountains. Have your camera ready as there are some fine
panoramic vistas across the coastal plain and Trinity Bay to see on the
way up. At the top you'll reach Barron Falls and Kuranda Scenic
Railway, and then Kuranda, the village in the rainforest (Heritage
Markets; Australian Venom Zoo; Birdworld Kuranda; Australian Butterfly
Sanctuary; BatReach; Cairns Wildlife Safari Reserve; Koala Gardens;
Rainforestation; Skyrail; Kuranda Riverboat).
Mareeba to Atherton
The road to Mareeba passes a number of coffee plantations; Jacques
Coffee Plantation has an ultra-light for joy flights. Mareeba is the
main town in the northern Tableland. It is an informative Heritage
Museum and Tourist Information Centre. At Mareeba, take the road south
to Atherton. There are plenty of things to see and do on this leg of
the journey - two more coffee plantations (Tichum Creek Coffe
Plantation and The Coffee Works); Golden Drop tropical fruit winery at
Mareeba; Go Kart Racetrack; Mareeba Tropical Savannah & Wetland
Reserve; Flying Warbirds joy flights; Granite Gorge Nature Park where
you can hand feed rock wallabies; Mt. Uncle Distillery. Beck's Aviation
and Military Museum is the biggest privately owned collection of war
machines, planes and equipment in Queensland.
Atherton to Ravenshoe
The main highway leads south to the former mining towns of Herberton
(Carrington Falls; mining museum) and Ravenshoe (tourist steam
railway), Millstream Falls; Little Millstream Falls; Hasties swamp
National Park, Wongabel State Forest Walking Track (26 km), Mt.
Hypipamee National Park (Mt. Hypipamee crater and crater lakes; Dinner
Falls). Beyond Ravenshoe on the Kennedy Highway is Innot Hot Springs
and the old copper mining town of Mount Garnet (42km from Ravenshoe).
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Crater Lakes: to the east of Atherton, off the Yungaburra Road, are
Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine. These crater lakes have very deep,
crystal-clear water. They are surrounded by dense tropical forest and
have been developed for water sports. Giant red cedars have been
preserved near Lake Eacham. The giant Cathedral Fig Tree and the
Curtain Fig Tree are close by. Towards Ravenshoe you will come across
the most dramatic of the tableland's crater lakes, Mt Hypipamee Lake,
which fills the cone of the crater.
Herberton: off the main Tableland circuit but well worth a visit,
Herberton was once the most important mining town on the Tableland.
Carrington Falls are nearby. The town has many old buildings; the
mining museum at the Great Northern Freehold Mine is very interesting.
The Spy & Camera Museum is a totally one of a kind, unique museum
that traces not only the history of photography but the importance of
cameras in the world of espionage. The exhibits include the world's
best spy cameras.
Ravenshoe: also off the main Tableland circuit, Ravensoe is an old
timber town that came into being over 100 years ago. It is the setting
point for a visit to Innot Hot Springs and the Undara Lava Tubes.
Ravenshoe is also home to the Railco heritage steam railway. MacKenzie,
Millsteam and Little Millstream Falls are near the town; Pepina and
Souita Falls are on the way from Millaa Millaa. Hotel Tully Falls lays
claim to being the highest pub in Queensland, being at an altitude of
914 metres above sea level.
Yungaburra to Millaa Millaa
To the east of Atherton is the quaint village of Yungaburra
(platypus watching platform). On the way you will pass Shaylee
Strawberry Farm - their strawberry jam is to die for! Yungaburra has a
couple of excellent cafes (Yungaburra Whistle Stop Cafe is a personal
favourite) and B&Bs. To the south of Yungaburra on your way to the
tablelands' waterfall district you'll pass through the town of Malanda.
People have claimed to have swum with platypus at the base of Malanda
Falls in the crocodile-free North Johnstone river. pop in for a cuppa
at the Nerada Tea plantation Visitors Centre. The road south from
Malanda leads to some of the prettiest waterfalls you are ever likely
to see - Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls; Elinjaa Falls, Mungalli
Falls, Nandroya Falls, Silver Creek Falls, Walicher Falls, Tchupala
Falls, Pepina Falls, Souita Falls.
Millaa Millaa to Innisfail
Beyond the waterfalls on the escarpment, Crawfords Lookout offers
extensive views towards Mt. Bartle Frere (1,622 m, Queensland's highest
mountain) and the coast before descending the Tableland to the town of
Innisfail. On they way is the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway, a 350
metre high elevated walkway above the rainforest, at canopy level.
Entry fees apply. Paronella Park and Mission Beach are a short drive
south from Innisfail. The road north to Cairns passes Eubenangree Swamp
National Park, the Josephine Falls turnoff and the town of Babinda,
famous for Babinda Rocks (The Boulders, Goldfield Trail; Wonga Park
Walk) which is a must-see natural attraction of the coastal region.